HB219: Pilot program may extend to early voting

By Simon Liu
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah State Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee passed HB219 early last Wednesday, which would allow same-day voter registration during early voting.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, would be an extension of the pilot program she sponsored in 2014. Through the program, counties can allow residents to register to vote on Election Day. Five counties – Davis, Kane, Sanpete, Salt Lake and Weber – opted into the program in 2014, allowing more tah n 1,200 voters to cast their ballots through same-day registration.

“That’s what the goal of the pilot program is: to gather data to evaluate whether this is something we want to do in the future,” said Chavez-Houck. “By allowing us to do this during the early voting period, it will just enrich the data gathering process for these pilot counties.”

As a Democrat, Chavez-Houck did face some resistance during the hearing. Some members of the committee had concerns over the political implications of the bill.

“Democrats got clobbered because of this on three House races, so you want to make more of this?” asked Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

Stephenson was referring to the 2014 race in which three Democrat representatives, who initially thought they had won, were defeated after the provisional ballots cast by people who had participated in the pilot program were counted.

Indeed, in a state where nearly 46 percent of voters are registered Republican, compared to the less than 10 percent of registered Democrats, a program that expands access to polls will likely benefit Republicans more. Chavez-Houck, however, is excited about the bill, even if it benefits the opposite party.

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s about policy, it’s about franchise,” she said. “I strongly believe that when a citizen wants to participate in franchise that they should be allowed that opportunity to.”

The pilot program was originally intended to allow same-day registration during early voting. The program is part of a bipartisan effort to expand voter turnout in Utah which, at 28.8 percent in 2014, is tied with New York for the third-lowest turnout in the country.

“Along with Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, I am for people voting, as many as possible, especially in Utah, where we rank at or near the bottom,” said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City. “There’s no question that this [bill] is going to increase voter participation.”

The bill passed the committee with a vote of 3-1, with Stephenson ultimately voting against the bill. The bill is now scheduled on the Senate reading calendar for debate and, if passed, will only need to be signed by Gov. Gary Herbert to become law.

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